News from the Farm
We couldn’t ask for better weather: warm but not too warm, encouraging us to spend time outdoors. The only fly in the ointment is that our tractor is still in the shop.
Poultry Breeding and Management: 100th Anniversary Edition
A big milestone in the Golden Age of American poultrykeeping (roughly 1910-1960) was the publication of Professor James Dryden’s Poultry Breeding and Management in 1916. Working just down the road at the Oregon Experiment Station in Corvallis, Dryden accomplished a lot, It’s not clear whether he was more respected for being the first to prove that you could breed hens for higher production, or because his simple, effective management methods made two generations of farmers far more successful.
On the breeding side, Dryden was the first person to demonstrate conclusively that you can use selective breeding to increase egg production. Others had tried and failed (too much inbreeding, too little out-crossing). In 1913, one hen, dubbed “Lady MacDuff,” produced 303 eggs in 365 days. This was in an age where the average farm hen produced fewer than 100 eggs per year. Not only did Dryden prove this, he proved it three times over, producing three improved breeds simultaneously (Barred Rocks, White Leghorns, and a hybrid of the two called “Oregons”). And these weren’t just successful on paper: demand for breeding stock was so high that sales of these birds paid for many of the buildings on the Oregon State University campus.
Dryden’s book remained in print for about 30 years, and Dryden is the only poultryman ever inducted into the National Agricultural Hall of Fame.
Anyway, this is a great book, full of ideas you can still use: some directly, and some with s few modernizing twists. I’m calling it the “100th Anniversary Edition.” Check it out!
Win a Free Book!
I’m trying out Amazon’s “giveaway” feature, so if you’re quick about it, you can win a free copy of Poultry Breeding and Management! How? Use the following link to enter the giveaway (or sweepstakes, or whatever the right word is). Basically, if you enter, you may or may not win a book: free, gratis, and for nothing. You don’t even pay for shipping. The link expires in a week, so do it now! You need to have an Amazon account to enter, and it’s one entry per customer.
July Poultry Notes
If your flock consists of laying hens, July is an easy month. Pretty much like June, only hotter. You need to be ready for the hot weather. Remember that chickens don’t like heat very much and really love shade in sunny weather.
Don’t let their drinking water get hot; they may refuse to drink it, and this can kill them on a hot day. Keep the waterers in the shade.
Hot weather also means that things spoil more quickly. Get those eggs into cool, shady places (preferably a refrigerator) as soon as they’re collected, and avoid feeding the chickens perishable feeds in quantities that they can’t gobble down in 20 minutes or so.
Predators may be getting a little hungrier, so keep your eyes open.
To do in July:
- Sell or butcher surplus cockerels. Traditionally, most of the male chicks were sold or turned into “spring chicken” (small broilers) as soon as they could be identified reliably. Having troops of young roosters around is a nuisance: fighting, annoying the hens, crowing, and eating their heads off while laying no eggs. We like having a few roosters around, but no more than the few that slip into our “100% pullets” orders. (Chickens of all ages can easily be sold live though a Craigslist ad to people who want them for various kinds of traditional ethnic cuisine. But you can’t even give away roosters “to a good home.”)
- Sell or butcher early molting hens. The natural rate of lay peaks in April or May, but hens shouldn’t actually be molting yet. Early molting hens are low-producing hens. In the fall, they’ll all molt, but now, any hen that drops her feathers is a known slacker that will probably do even worse next year.
- Replace litter. If you’re using deep litter, replace part of it so you don’t bang your head on the rafters. See my Deep Litter FAQ.
- Provide shade on range. Chickens are easily overheated on sunny summer days.
- Provide additional ventilation. Most chicken-coop designs are grossly under-ventilated. See Fresh-Air Poultry Houses for lots of ideas for light, airy chicken coops. Once they’re out of the brooder house, it’s impossible to provide too much ventilation during the warmer months, provided your chickens don’t actually blow away into someone else’s farm!
- Gather eggs more frequently in warm weather. This is especially true if you can’t put them directly into a refrigerator. Egg quality declines far faster at high temperatures than room temperature, and far faster at room temperature than in the refrigerator, so leaving them in the nest for a few extra hours on a hot day can cause a perceptible decline in quality.
- Control roost mites. In most of the country, roost mites are the biggest health threat to chickens, and they multiply alarmingly in warm weather. The mites are most troublesome on roosts and in nest boxes. See my Chicken Heath Issues FAQ.
- Cull weak or runty chickens. Yep, more culling. Runty, stunted, or sick chickens won’t recover to the point of being profitable. This may not be an issue with pet chickens, but for even a small-scale commercial flock, it’s best to get remove them as soon as they’re detected.
- Feed moist feed to maintain egg production on hot days. This is an old-time farming trick that I don’t use myself, but that some people swear by. Feed a small amount of moist feed once or twice a day to perk up the hens’ appetite. It has to be a small amount, so it’s all gone before all the hens get all they want, to spur competition-based eating. The idea here is that hot weather dulls the hens’ appetites, and if they don’t eat enough, they don’t have the resources to keep laying. The classic way of doing moist feed is to feed ordinary chicken feed in long troughs and dribble about a quart of water per 100 hens down the middle of the trough, creating a stripe of moist feed that’s consumed instantly.
- Be aware that egg production has probably already peaked for the year. This is deeply inconvenient for those of us who sell at farmer’s markets, where the sales potential peaks in August and September, but it’s hard to influence the natural egg-laying cycle.
Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List
These are my top-selling books from last month:
- Gardening Without Work by Ruth Stout.
- Plotto by William Wallace Cook.
- A Thousand Miles Up The Nile by Amelia B. Edwards.
- Genetics of the Fowl by F. B
- Fresh-Air Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D.
All of these are fine books (I only publish books I believe in). If you’re like most readers of this newsletter, you’ll enjoy starting with Fresh-Air Poultry Houses and Success With Baby Chicks. These cover the basics of healthy, odor-free, high-quality chicken housing and zero-mortality chick brooding, respectively, and get good reviews.
I started Norton Creek Press in 2003 to bring the “lost secrets of the poultry masters” into print—techniques from the Golden Age of poultrykeeping, which ran from roughly 1900 to 1950. I’ve been adding an eclectic mix of non-poultry books as well. These include everything from my science fiction novel, One Survivor, to the true story of a Victorian lady’s trip up the Nile in the 1870s, A Thousand Miles up the Nile. See my complete list of titles.
Recent Blog Posts
Here are some new and updated posts since last time, from my various blogs:
- Living With a Low-Yield Well (updated)
- Temperatures and Your Hens (new, with infographic)
- Better than Chicken Tractors: Hoop Coops for Free-Range Chickens (updated)
- How Coccidiosis Makes Your Chickens Sick (new, with infographic)
- Plotto: Avoid These Three Huge Mistakes (new)
- Fractionation: Try this Sure-Fire Hypnotic Deepener (new, with video)
Adventures in Social Media
And if that’s not enough, you can use social media to stay up to date:
- Friend me on Facebook. I’m more active on Facebook than the other social media sites.
- Follow me on Twitter
- Follow me on Google+
- Follow me on LinkedIn